Of Teachers and Racers

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(Photo, Gravel Guru)

For me, teachers and racers are related. I tend to learn like I’m in a race. (Teach me more before stupid catches me!) And I race like I’m in a classroom. (I may not catch the racer, but I’ll catch the lesson…)

That’s why having Mr. Tony Black as a teammate is doubly good. He’s been an athlete about as long as I’ve been a person. Tony was a D-I track athlete in college. And he’s been teaching for decades.

I don’t know another cyclist who’s half as meticulous, or as determined to learn from experience. To ride with Tony is to attend an ongoing seminar on training and tactics and temperament. (Pack a lunch, because Mr. Black can fly all day.)

Following Gravel Worlds, Tony sent the Lincoln Abrahams a summary of what he’d learned from a successful season. At 58, Tony beat the sun at DK and posted division wins in Panama and Scottsbluff. He was just off the podium at Gravel Nationals in Kansas, and was on it at Cornhusker State Games. So, yeah, it was a great season.

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Tony signs the big board in the Emporia daylight.

He agreed to share 10 points from that summary here with you (minus a few team secrets). What’s a team without a few secrets?

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Class is now in session, Prof. Black presiding. (Photo, Matt Pearson)

Abes,

Well my season is complete, and now it’s time to rest up my body and mind. Here’s a little bit of what I learned this year.

  1. I’m not too old.

In fact, I’m getting stronger. And I expect to be even faster next year. My age is actually my secret weapon. While younger riders need to be home spending quality time with their children, I’m out riding long miles (because my daughters are young adults).

  1. Master riders are fast.

Twelve master riders rode under nine hours at Gravel Worlds. But I’ve noticed that the number of quality riders over the age of 55 drops. In two years, I’ll be in the 60+ age group. And I want to be on that podium at Dirty Kanza.

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I got a taste of my potential at Gravel Worlds. And I want more of it. (Photo, Gravel Guru)

  1. All the Abes have become really fast.

A year ago, most of our long rides averaged about 15 mph. This year, we did most of our long rides much faster. Abes sharpen Abes.

  1. I need more fast training rides.

At Cornhusker State Games and Gravel Worlds, we went out very fast (19+ mph at CSG and 20+ mph at GW), and I felt comfortable. However, my body wasn’t adapted to riding that fast for a long period of time. If you want to ride fast, you have to train fast. Only ride fast once per week, and follow with a recovery day.

  1. Take the free wind.

I rode the early part of the biggest races in large packs, which made the speeds feel easy. Take advantage and ride in the pack as long as it feels under control. Once you start to work too hard, back off and find another pack. DK had large packs the whole race. More road riders are racing gravel, resulting in faster races and bigger, more efficient packs.

  1. Don’t blow yourself up in the hills.

Losing 30 seconds in a hilly section can be made up in the next couple miles. Losing two or three minutes can also be made up within five or 10 miles. But if you cramp up, you’ve destroyed your race.

  1. Once a week do an easy social ride.

Go slow. Get out and ride with beginning riders. Promote riding.

  1. Respect the ice sock.

It’s already saved me more than once.

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Ice sock hero… That Pirate jersey looks all the tougher stuffed with an ice sock neck roll. (Photo, Eric Vacek)

  1. Gravel racing is growing at an incredible rate.

Just a few years ago, there were only a handful of elite gravel racers at a given event. Today, the elite racers have multiplied by five. And the number of good riders has skyrocketed. Just a couple years ago, gravel races involved grinding out many solo miles. This year, they felt more like road races with large packs and long pace lines. But, unlike road racing, gravel racers continue to be a cool, friendly group.

  1. Keep your balance.

I want to get faster in 2018. But that won’t happen if my priorities swing out of balance. Remember what matters.

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Tony’s not just a good wheel to follow. He’s a good man to follow. (Photo, Kevin Fox)

***

It didn’t make Tony’s list, but the biggest thing I learned from him this year was the right way to weather bad luck. His 2016 was rough: overheating on gravel, crashing out in cyclocross and breaking a collarbone on the mountain bike. For a while last winter, he wondered whether he might be done. Obviously, he’s not.

The grit he modeled through his rehab helped me keep perspective through my own rough season littered with busted bikes and DNFs. Keep at it. The best way to drop bad luck: Hang onto your effort.


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